Ridgefield, Wilton compete in lineman challenges for the first time

RIDGEFIELD — The season began with a lift-off instead of a kick-off.

In a corner of the Tiger Hollow field, near the 15-yard line, five linemen apiece from the Wilton and Ridgefield football teams competed to see who could bench press 185 pounds the most times. At other stations on the field, fellow linemen were doing deadlifts and overhead presses, pushing and carrying weights, or throwing medicine balls.

“It’s different, that’s for sure,” said Ridgefield head coach Kevin Callahan as he walked from one station to another.

The COVID-19 pandemic has altered nearly every aspect of life in 2020, including Connecticut high school football. With the traditional 11-vs.-11, full-contact version of the sport canceled this fall, schools and leagues have looked for other options. One of those is a combination of strength challenges and 7-on-7, non-contact passing games — a plan designed by Callahan and Ridgefield athletic director Dane Street and approved by the FCIAC.

“We would all rather be playing 11 vs. 11,” Callahan said. “But at least this is something for the players. They get a chance to be on the field and cheering for each other.”

“I think it’s great,” Wilton coach EJ DiNunzio said. “It’s not traditional football, but it beats the alternative of not playing at all this fall.”

Along with their players, Callahan and DiNunzio are hopeful that traditional football gets a chance to be played in the spring. The CIAC recently created an alternative season which would take place March 19-April 17 and include football, as well as any fall or winter sports that don’t complete 40% of their games.

“Who knows what will happen,” Callahan said. “If we can get these kids to play a real football game this (school) year it will be a victory.”

The players say the alternative is better than nothing.

“No one loves it,” Ridgefield senior Logan Lachemann said. “But a lot of us are happy to have something.”

“It’s a chance to compete,” said Wilton lineman Matt Gulbin, who will play at Wake Forest. “All of us want to be playing real football, so that part is disappointing. Still, it’s nice to have this at least.”

Callahan thinks the strength challenges and 7-on-7 passing games will help players prepare for the alternative season next spring.

“The skill guys get to work on passing and coverage and the linemen get to keep strength training,” he said. “Instead of having spring practice for the fall, we are having fall practice for the spring.”